Comeback or Choke?

Friday, September 27, 2013


In the days since the stunning victory of Oracle Team USA in the 34th Amercia’s Cup held in San Francisco, many commentators have taken the opposite perspective: that Emirate’s Team New Zealand choked. I disagree. In any sport, an individual or a team can come back without the other team choking – even a team with a seemingly insurmountable 8 to 1 lead in a yacht race, as ETNZ had. So let’s look at a couple of facts.

First, this new brand of yacht racing is unlike anything that we have seen in the past. The catamarans, racing on hydrofoils, are capable of going more than 50 mph during races. The physical demands of the eleven-man crew are substantial, and operating these $10 million dollar machines takes exquisite teamwork.

ETNZ had a chance to hone its teamwork and get used to its boat in the Louis Vuitton Cup – the series of races to determine who the challenger will be in the America’s Cup Final. By contrast, Oracle Team USA did not have any such competition to determine who would defend the Cup. Thus, ETNZ had been battle-hardened, on this course, and in its new machine, during the previous month, and it had made all the proper adjustments before the Finals started. OTUSA had to continue to tinker with its vessel and indeed with its team. It would be similar to a football team playing its ninth game of the year against a football team playing its first. Once OTUSA found its sweet spot, they were difficult to beat.

Nevertheless, ETNZ actually had Oracle beat for a ninth (and clinching) win on a day when there was very little wind, thus favoring the ETNZ craft. Had ETNZ been able to get across the finish line before the 40 minute time limit, the Cup would have been theirs. Once the wind picked up the next day, OTUSA was back in business and blazed their way into yachting history – history that should treat ETNZ kindly as well.

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